Category Archives: INFORMS

Not Your Father’s Society

[Virtual interview June 6, 2037 between Steve Smith, executive editor of ‘Quantum Systems Review’, and Jack Roberts president of the ‘American Association of Certified Analytics Professionals’ (AACAP).]

“Jack, I understand that you have an announcement.”

“That’s right Steve; we are announcing a name expansion.”

“Name expansion?”

“Yes, we are simply adding the word accounting between analytics and professionals. Our new acronym will be AACAAP; so you just have to stretch-out the last ‘a’ sound.”


“You know: AAC-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-P.”

“Why the change?”

“Well, with the introduction of stat-chips, and the collapse of big-data, the market for analytics professionals dried-up, so we decided to pivot.”


“Ever since the financial crisis of 2031 was caused by sixth generation derivatives, the large banks have been desperate to find people who could understand them, and as a result, the analytics accounting market has become red-hot. Since we weren’t getting the growth we were looking for with analytics, we decided to jump on the analytics accounting band-wagon.”

“But, what about your members?”

“What about them? We have moved on; they should too. Listen Steve, we’re taking a leadership position in the non-profit space: we believe lifetime membership in a professional society, like lifetime employment, is passe′.”

“I’m not sure I…”

“It’s been great chatting with you Steve, but I have to run. I have a meeting with Professor Teresa Laporte, the well known author of ‘Winning With Analytics Accounting’; She has agreed to serve on our certification board, and I can’t be late.”

“And remember, the acronym is AAC-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-P.”

Hidden In Plain Sight

I do not usually subscribe to conspiracy theories. However, I find myself wondering if operations research could have reached its current state of obscurity by chance. Consider what you might do, if you were tasked with hiding operations research. You would probably realize that it would be impossible to keep it completely secret; so you might come up with an alternative approach: make it very difficult to get information about operations research and its benefits, and use disinformation to confuse those who might be interested in it.

To implement this strategy, you might take the following steps:

  • Encourage operations research journals to publish papers that almost no one (except for a few specialists) can understand;
  • Do not require operations research journal articles to relate to real world situations or problems;
  • Make sure that the papers in the practice journal, that describe successful operations research projects, are only available to a few subscribers and research libraries, and never publicize their existence;
  • Bury the videos describing world class operations research projects deep inside a single website, and make some of them available only as a membership benefit;
  • Stop using the name operations research, and replace it with the ambiguous term analytics;
  • Do not promote operations research, and instead use all resources to promote analytics, big data, and data science.

These steps happen to correspond exactly with the current approach to ‘promoting’ operations research in the United States. And, this approach has had the expected result: very few people understand operations research or its benefits.

Recently however, there has been a surprising development: the editor of the journal ‘Manufacturing & Service Operations Management’ has created a review blog, where authors can present a non-technical summery of their articles. He is also, encouraging authors to publicize their articles through social media.

While this is a small step at a single journal, it represents a new approach to promoting operations research. Imagine what might happen, if instead of restricting access to information about operations research and its value, we took advantage of the internet, social media, and thousands of operations research professionals to publicize its value:

  • Imagine if all operations research journals began to encourage research designed to solve real problems, and then publicized that research;
  • Imagine if thousands of operations research professionals began to tweet, share, and blog about their research and the value of operations research;
  • Imagine if large numbers of videos describing successful operations research projects were placed on YouTube and promoted on social media;
  • Imagine if free online journals describing successful operations research projects were created and widely distributed.

Now, imagine a future in which the practice of operations research is ubiquitous.

Will Operations Research Survive?

There have been some troubling signs: a 2010 article in OR/MS Today suggested that analytics would subsume operations research; a 2013 LinkedIn discussion asked “Will Big Data end Operations Research?”; and ominously, even INFORMS seems to be distancing itself from operations research.

How should we react to this? Should we:

  • Take early retirement, move to Vermont, and open a bed and breakfast?
  • Claim to be analytics professionals, and hope no one asks us about Hadoop or NoSQL?
  • Return to school to study data science?

No! None of the above will be necessary. To understand why, it is necessary to go back to first principles.

The original meaning of the name operational research (what operations research is called in Great Britain, where it was invented) was literally, scientific research on operations. The name was meant to distinguish scientific research on operations, from scientific research on the underlying technology of some product, e.g. radar. In the late 1930‘s the British Government funded scientific research directed towards creating radar equipment with sufficient range and precision to locate attacking aircraft. They also initiated an operations research study to determine the most effective way to deploy the radar stations, and integrate them into an effective air defense system.

This type of scientific research, and the scientific method upon which it is based, is a problem solving paradigm. Operations research is the application of this problem solving paradigm to the solution of operational and management problems.

During the summer of 1940, this paradigm arguably saved Great Britain from defeat. Today, as the Edelman Competition routinely demonstrates, this paradigm creates benefits so great, that they transform entire organizations. And, it is because of this paradigm that operations research can create value that can be created in no other way. This value — lower costs, higher profits, military advantage, more efficiency, better service — was needed in 1940, is in evidence all around us today, and will be in demand for as long as human civilization persists.

So, there is no cause for alarm. Just continue ‘Doing Good with Good OR’.

At The Heart Of Analytics

“operational research – at the heart of analytics”. This phrase is the banner headline on the home page of the website of the British OR Society. ( The January 12, 2015 blog post of The OR Society begins with the following statement:

‘Part of the OR Society’s mission statement is that the Society “effectively promotes the use of OR”; and this is something we do extensively through our publications, our events, our training, our OR in schools initiative, our web sites and elsewhere.’ (

Clearly, The OR Society believes that they can use the interest in analytics to promote operations research. If we, in the United States, want to do the same thing, we should keep two basic marketing principles in mind:

1) If you want to market a product, you must tell your prospective customers, THE NAME OF YOUR PRODUCT. In our case, the name of our product is operations research. If we use an amorphous name such as analytics, or the name of a different discipline such as data science, our customers will be confused, and they won’t know what to buy.

2) It is usually helpful, if you explain to your prospective customers, THE BENEFITS OF YOUR PRODUCT. In our case, we could explain to people with an interest in ‘big data’, that operations research can be used to turn insights from a ‘big data’ analysis into an optimal marketing plan.

It is possible, that by positioning operations research ‘at the heart of analytics’, we can promote operations research more effectively. Perhaps, we could even persuade the British OR Society to let us borrow their slogan.

Going With The Flow

Somewhere in an alternate universe…

The INFORMS board members sat in the conference room and wrestled with a recurring question: what should they do about analytics? They had hoped that the problem might just fade away. After all, expert systems, neural networks, and most recently big data, had all come and gone. However, interest in analytics had continued to grow. They were frustrated, and so they decided to engage the prestigious consulting firm of McKinsey, Boston & Yoda to help them develop a strategic plan. They were thrilled when Professor Yoda, one of the firms managing partners, agreed to meet with them.

One month later…

After listening for awhile, as the INFORMS board members described their situation, Professor Yoda rose from his chair and strode toward the white board. There was great anticipation in the room: would he draw one of the matrix diagrams that his firm was famous for? Instead, he wrote two words on the white board. He replaced the marker in the tray; returned to his place at the table; closed his briefcase; and left the room. He didn’t return, and after a few minutes, he was seen driving away.

Everyone was stunned. What had happened? What did it mean? What should they do? They kept staring at the white board ……………………. and then ……………………. they understood! It was so simple really: all they had to do was to align their strategy with THE FORCE.

The way forward was now clear to them, but the INFORMS board members knew that it would not be easy. So they asked the membership for help. They were not disappointed. It turned out that INFORMS members had already created a lot of content that would be valuable to people interested in analytics. There were lectures, tutorials, white papers, podcasts and videos. This content was organized and presented on a special section of the INFORMS website. New content was created, and then promoted through social media. After a while, people began to notice these efforts.

Meanwhile, two years earlier, INFORMS had begun an initiative to encourage the submission of applied papers to its journals. These papers were now beginning to flow in. The INFORMS board members thought: why not summarize these papers and feature them on the INFORMS website? And that, is exactly what they did.

Eighteen months later…

Steve Jobs sat in his office and played with the iPad 6 prototype. He was trying to decide on the perfect shade of white for its case when he got a call from Tim Cook.

“Hi Tim.”

“Hi Steve. I think I have a solution to the problems we’ve been having on the iTV production line.”


“Yes, we have some people monitoring the INFORMS website; they came across a new article on the optimal sequencing of subassemblies. I think we can use that approach to improve our process.”

“That’s great Tim. Why don’t we just go ahead and buy INFORMS?”

“Ah…. Steve, I don’t know if we can do that. INFORMS is a non-profit professional society.”

“Oh. OK, then let’s hire the people who wrote the article.”

“I’m already on it. They’re coming in on Wednesday to meet with us.”

“Great. Listen Tim, how do you feel about antique eggshell white?”

Twelve months later…

The featured article in the journal Foreign Affairs is entitled “The On-Shoring Craze – Should Operations Research Get All The Credit?”.

Twenty months later…

Time Magazine names operations research discipline of the year.

Sixteen months later…

Each of the INFORMS board members was announced as they entered the East Room of the White House. When the president asked them how they had achieved such great success, the reply came back immediately: “Madam President, we owe all of our success to our belief in THE FORCE”. The audience applauded, cameras flashed, and the president smiled as she presented each of them with the Presidential Medal Of Freedom.

The End.